The Joys of NRA Membership: Marketing Messages and Chinese Trinkets


One fine day last winter, after reading that the rank-and-file members of the National Rifle Association actually supported reasonable gun regulations, i.e., expanded background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines, I decided to join up.

This was not an easy decision, and it had nothing to do with guns. It had to do with clubs. Like Groucho, I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. The only other club I ever joined was Sam’s.

Also: I knew that some infinitesimal part of my $25 membership dues would go to support the NRA’s lobbying efforts and pay the salaries of its executives.

Plus there was the fact that the NRA is about as democratic as Cuba. Control is vested in a 76-member board of directors. They pass out ballots to us 4 million members, but only candidates who know the secret handshake can get elected to positions of influence.

This is a hard thing to admit, but the key factor in my decision to join the NRA was its offer of a free NRA gym bag just for signing up. Also, there was a free online subscription to American Rifleman magazine, which I thought might give me some useful advice for taking out any grizzly bears that I ran into. I hate grizzly bears even more than clubs.

In the picture the gym bag looked really cool, a black square-duffle kind of bag with “NRA” emblazoned on the side in yellow. I figured this bag would be a truly excellent conversation starter.

Them: “I see you have an NRA gym bag. What do you do for a living?”

Me: I work on the editorial page of one of the most liberal newspapers in the nation.

Them: “What?”

So I sent off my $25, rationalizing it with the thought that maybe by being an NRA member I could calm down hostile phone callers and gain access to some insider knowledge that might let some more reasonable voices be heard.

Boy, what a sap.

In the first place, it took months for my NRA gym bag to reach me. It was smaller than it had looked in the membership ad, barely big enough to hold two handguns and some extended clips. If you wanted to add a 100-round drum for your AR-15, you’d be out of luck. It was so flimsy that it ripped on me even before I had a chance to load it up with guns and ammo.

But the worst thing was the tiny white tag inside that said “Made in China.”

China! What about the guys who are stocking up on guns and ammo to fight off the godless commies? What happens when they find out the NRA is buying gym bags from the enemy?

I know it’s hard these days to find cheap Made-in-the-USA trinkets to give away to hapless suckers, but I expected better of an organization that makes such a big deal out of patriotism.

It turns out that the only real benefit to belonging to the NRA is that it entitles you to be relentlessly assaulted by fundraising and marketing messages. In the past eight days, for example, I have received no fewer than five such messages.

I hear frequently from Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, suggesting that I send along $50 or $100 to fight President Barack Obama’s stealthy skulduggery. Wayne was particularly exorcised at Connecticut’s new gun laws, which he says prove the president is lying about his lack of intentions to seize guns, even though the law says no such thing.

Wayne urges me to extend my membership, which still has six months to run, so the NRA can continue its fight against a nonexistent threat. But Wayne apparently has heard about my weakness for freebies, since he promised me a free “tactical pen flashlight” if I extend for one year.

What makes a flashlight you can carry in a shirt pocket “tactical”? I do not know, except perhaps I can whop somebody upside the head with it if the president succeeds in taking away my guns.

I frequently get offered a chance to buy books and videos that will teach me how to keep myself safe and insurance in case the books and videos fail. “The Modern Day Gunslinger” was tempting, but not so tempting as the offer to spend $5,500 for a trip to northern Idaho to hunt turkeys and black bears.

The offer included luxury accommodations, an open bar, two turkeys and two bears. I’m all in favor of killing bears, but how can they be sure I will kill two of them, particularly after a night at the open bar? I do not know.

Maybe the tactical pen flashlight is involved. My experience in the NRA suggests that the people who run the NRA think its members are gullible dupes. I’m thinking of turning in my gym bag.

Kevin Horrigan


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